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EU chief and Boris Johnson agree to ‘redouble efforts’ to reach a deal in trade talks

The briefing is seen as a key moment in the discussions after negotiations derailed in October.

File photo. Boris Johnson with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
File photo. Boris Johnson with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Image: PA

Updated Nov 7th 2020, 3:43 PM

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have agreed during a phone call today to “redouble efforts” to reach a trade deal and signed off on talks continuing next week.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister told his Brussels counterpart that there remained “significant differences” in the UK-EU negotiations, with the two sides continuing to be apart on their positions over fishing rights and a level playing field agreement.

The call follows two weeks of intensified talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his European Union equivalent Michel Barnier, with Johnson and von der Leyen paving the way for further discussions between the pair in London next week.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson today spoke with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for a stock take on the progress in the negotiations between the UK and the EU,” a Number 10 spokeswoman said.

“The Prime Minister set out that, while some progress had been made in recent discussions, significant differences remain in a number of areas, including the so-called level playing field and fish.

“The Prime Minister and President agreed that their negotiating teams would continue talks in London next week, beginning on Monday, in order to redouble efforts to reach a deal.

“They agreed to remain in personal contact about the negotiations.”

Briefings between the two leaders are regarded as key moments in the cross-Channel bartering.

Their conversation last month led to discussions being “intensified” before a fallout after the European Council meeting on 15 October briefly derailed the negotiations.

Ireland’s Europe minister Thomas Byrne, speaking before the phone call, cast doubt that the conversation would lead to white smoke on agreeing a deal, saying discussions are still at a “technical level”.

“I personally don’t expect that there would be major progress today but at the same time I think it is very good that the top two are talking – I think that’s really positive but I don’t think we would expect ‘a moment’ at this particular point,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost was in the Belgian capital to speak face-to-face with his European Union counterpart Michel Barnier earlier this week as the deadline for doing a deal edges closer.

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After talks finished on Wednesday, Barnier briefed MEPs and EU diplomats that “very serious divergences” remain, with only 54 days left until the end of the transition period. 

He said the main stumbling blocks continue to be around the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition on areas including state subsidies, fisheries policy and the governance of any deal.

After the phone call,  Frost tweeted: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson and commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke today about our negotiations with the EU.

“My talks with Michel Barnier will continue in London on Monday.”

He previously said progress has been made during two weeks of intensive negotiations but “wide divergences remain on some core issues”.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said earlier today that he doubted the conversation between von der Leyen and Johnson would make a significant difference in the EU-UK trade talks.

“I personally don’t expect that there would be major progress today but at the same time I think it is very good that the top two are talking,” said Byrne, speaking on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today.

Byrne doesn’t believe that the chief negotiators should be sidelined and that heads of state shouldn’t be engaging to achieve a deal.

“No, Ursula von der Leyen, Michel Barnier… they speak on behalf of all Europeans, individual member states don’t – that’s the way the European Union works,” said Byrne.

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